Rethinking the Class Size Message

Posted on Nov 3, 2016 in Blog, Insights

Brad Rathgeber is the executive director of One Schoolhouse, which comprises Online School for Girls, Online School for Boys, Online Independent School. Brad’s guest post addresses the need to shift marketing messages as educational models evolve and the expectations of millennial parents change.

A central promise that independent schools make to families is: We know your child. For generations, schools have emphasized this in their programs and messaging. Over time, schools developed shorthand to communicate this promise by touting their student-to-faculty ratios on their websites and in their viewbooks.

It’s time to stop using class size as a differentiating feature—it may not be as meaningful an academic marker as many assume. A Brookings Institution report from 2011 summed up the research on class size: “The academic effects [of decreased class size] seem to be largest when introduced in the earliest grades, and for students from less advantaged family backgrounds. They may also be largest in classrooms of teachers who are less well prepared and effective in the classroom.”*

And, different class make-ups (some of various class sizes) can be beneficial to student learning. For example, a lecture-style class prepares students for that type of experience in college. A co-teaching model with a larger than normal class size might be right for project-based learning. A personalized or blended learning model may change ratios as well as the look and feel of a classroom.

Focus on class size is no longer the right marketing strategy for reaching millennial parents. Marketing experts tell us that millennials expect customization—an experience that can be personalized to the particular interests and needs of each student.** Thus, marketing from an individual’s perspective is key. Student-to-faculty ratios speak to the size of a group rather than the unique experience of the individual—better to focus on that custom experience.

How is this done? Watch the first few minutes of this marketing video from Acton Academy, an independent school in Austin, Texas (with branches popping up around the country). In this video, students talk about their personal journeys, the individualization and self-direction of their work, and the role of teachers as guides. These messages fit with what we know about successful marketing to millennial students and their parents. Not once is “class size” mentioned. And, in fact, their class size is larger than most independent schools, in part because their educational model allows for larger groups of students and greater customization.

The Acton example does not speak to everyone, nor to every school.  But it does give us ideas and language that effectively speak to today’s families.

*Brookings – Class Size:

** HBR – March 2016 & Entrepreneur – July 2014

Photo Credit: Hudson Montessori School